Pittsburgh: Kim Wilson Interview by Monica L. Yasher

Posted on 10/16/2009 by Monica Yasher

I can't tell you how excited I was to be interviewing Kim Wilson! I have been a fan of the Thunderbirds for years. The day I met up with him was extremely hot, and I was to interview Kim prior to his show. I'll have you know that Kim was working pretty hard to make sure his fans could see, and more importantly, hear the music of the Thunderbirds. With a concert schedule jammed packed with excitement, it can prove challenging for a vocalist. I don't have to tell you how important it is to maintain those bluesy vocals! And, sometimes that means not talking. So, Kim and I decided to meet up after the show. It was probably about 11 pm when I began to talk to Kim, and BTW, his voice was great!

Monica: I’m here with Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and I have a few questions to ask him!
I read that you have a clear vision of what your next record usually should sound like. How do you usually get that vision?

Kim: Well. It’s just a natural progression of things. When you start playing with people for a while..and then you get a feel for what they do and what their desires are…and then you try to ….you know…I’m not one of those people that just goes my way or the highway. You know… I listen to everyone in my band and every time I make a recording…this is the first time that I actually had people who write songs...real, real songwriters in my band. So you know we have that going on and the direction that we are going to go in was kind of always done by committee. But there is a natural way of doing things. I think that it’s pretty clear to all of us what we want to do next.

Monica: That was one of my questions for you that you answered. I read that you had all songwriters in your band and how was that working for the band. You have two bands, true?

Kim: Yes.

Monica: How are they different in the material and what you do. How do they differ?

Kim: The blues band, Blues Revue, is very traditional. You can say it is in mono. And, it’s all straight blues. A lot of harmonica. Just a different dynamic. The Thunderbirds are a lot of different things kind of mixed up. They are an experiment of a hybrid of a lot of different American music: Blues, Soul, Rock’n Roll. Almost everything balled up into one. And, that’s the difference.

Monica: OK. What do prefer? Reworking the classics or the new?

Kim: There are so many Thunderbird songs that we never know what to pull out. The same with the other thing. But, yeah. I mean I’ve written a lot of songs for the Thunderbirds. I haven’t written that many songs for the blues band, although some Thunderbird songs cross over to the other band. The more traditional Thunderbird songs stuff like, Wait on Time. Certain things that we play in the night like, It Takes Time by Otis Rush. But usually I try to separate it. I try to do totally different things. I try not to cross them over too much.

Monica: How do you attack songwriting? Verse? Melody?

Kim: There’s no…

Monica: You don’t have a cookbook?

Kim: There’s no formula to it. You go by…..there’s just no formula to it.

Monica: OK.

Kim: Sometimes….I like to do beats. The beat isn’t really the song. The song is words and melody and the arrangemental thing is …the guys are really good about arrangements. Usually I can come up with some sort of crude arrangement, and then I show it to them. It either works or they will come up something themselves.

Monica: Are you jamming up there or rehearsed?

Kim: We improvise a lot. The set is totally called on the spot. The whole set list.

Monica: I read you never do a set list.

Kim: No, never. The songs are rehearsed, of course. They have to be. A lot of them have to be. What you do inside the songs is definitely not rehearsed.

Monica: OK. Thank you. How does someone get their harmonica chops together? I saw that you felt…that you harmonica players to listen to your music, and learn a lot from your harmonica playing. So how would someone go about listening to your music that would want to learn harmonica and attack it?

Kim: You can listen to the records. That’s what I did. I listened to the records. When I was a kid, I wasn’t even playing a year and I was playing with all the greats. I was playing with Eddie Taylor and all of those people. You know it was kind of on the job training for me. They all liked me for some reason. But, going to see people play live is very important. You really get a feel for what they are doing, their dynamic, how they attack it. The studio is very, very different from live. Live is more of a show, and you know, in the studio your playing to the tape. So, I think people really learn a lot from off the records like I did. And, I got to play with all the guys immediately you see. So, I think the minute you get…the moment you start playing, you need to get on the stage and…you need to get on a stage way before you make your first record. You know. You need to be ready to make a record. That’s very important. I lot of people aren’t ready when they make a record, because it’s just so easy to do these days. There’s a big glut of things that probably shouldn’t be out there. I’m not saying don’t play. Play. Play. Record. Get in the studio if you feel like recording, and record at home or whatever. But, don’t put it out. You know have some sense! (He laughed)

Monica: I understand. I understand. Out of all the aspects of music: the harp playing, songwriting, the performing, what is your favorite?

Kim: I like it all.

Monica: The whole package?

Kim: I love the harmonica of course. The singing is the most difficult one because it’s just the hardest thing to do. It’s the challenge that you keep trying and trying and trying to get it your whole life. But, that’s something that it…I’ve been singing since I was a kid. That’s the reason why I work. If I was just a harmonica player I wouldn’t have a job. But, the singing, to do it right…

Monica: Vocally correct?

Kim: Yeah. There’s a certain way you do this kind of music. And, some people they sing it and it’s a little bit operatic, you know what I mean?

Monica: Hmm..

Kim: There’s a way to deliver this stuff that is very very important.

Monica: The growls and..

Kim: It has to do with pipes… but not that much.

Monica: And, are you an advocate of the blues with’s more important to sing with feeling than being a good singer? I’m not sure I’m hearing that from you.

Kim: It is. No, that’s right. Your right. That’s exactly right. If you can pull that off, that’s great. That’s what counts more than the great-like singing voice. Singing is a lot more than just having the pipes. Singing is knowing how to deliver the song. And delivering the song in blues is a very, very rare thing these days. There are not very many people who can really do it. You really have to listen to people like…there are all kinds of different singers. There’s Jimmy Reed all the way to BB King. And they’re all just as valid as the other one. But, the one thing they all have in common is they all really know how to deliver it. And, you know, a lot of people are more concentrating on the notes and staying on pitch and all that stuff than they are on delivering the song. You know it really is a feel, and if you can’t move people, then you might as well not be doing it. You got to move people. That’s the whole important thing. It’s great to be a player on top of everything else. But, you have to move people. It really..a lot of the times you’re playing for people who know nothing about blues music. So it is very important to move them. Get an emotion out of them. And, that’s… it’s almost better to play for those people who don’t have any preconceptions of what blues music is. And, just let them feel it. I’ve had people come up to me that knew nothing of blues music that really really would come to me and say, Wow! That really got me. I think that’s the most important thing.

Monica: I think it is too! That’s what the blues was all about.

Kim: Yeah it is.

Monica: What do you think is your greatest accomplishment?

Kim: Down the line somewhere. I haven’t done it yet.

Monica: Well, let’s talk down the line then. You have a new CD coming out that will be out when?

Kim: In the fall. Not sure when. It’s getting late now. It’s a very, very good record. And for this band a very, very good start. I’m really proud of these guys. This is absolutely my best band.

Monica: Cool.

Kim: Ever. I’m so happy that I got them.

Monica: Anthing that I didn’t ask and you wanted to?

Kim: No.

Monica: No?

Kim: You did good. I think that’s good. You did all right.

Monica: Thank you.

Kim: What magazine is this coming out in?

Monica: American Blues News. It’s online.

Kim: OK. Cool.

Now right about here, I thought we were done. But, we kept talking…..

Monica: One thing that was a reoccurring theme this weekend was the passion of the music. Everybody does it for passion. They lived hard times and a lot of them are struggling to make it in this industry. This is all about passion.

Kim: Oh, I know.

Monica: They can’t imagine doing anything else.

Kim: You know I’m very very old school. I have very set ideas. Even though I push the envelop constantly musically. I have very set ideas about music. If you’re going to go outside of what blues music is, you better be able to put that feel into it of all that old stuff. Muddy Waters, BB King. All the old stuff from the fifties, forties, even early sixties. You have to do that in what you do. If you’re not schooled in that, there’s no sense in trying anything else.

Monica: Do you think you can put those feelings in hard rock blues?

Kim: No, not in hard rock. I don’t know. They don’t have to be traditional so much. But you have to have the feel of the tradition. You know. If you don’t have that and you are not well versed in that, there’s no way you can go any further legitimately. There are people that don’t have that, and have sold a lot of records. You know. I don’t know how. But there are people who…there are certain things it just doesn’t mix with. There is certain musics that don’t mix with. I don’t want to go into it. There are people who play rock music that are very passionate. They don’t try to combine it with blues music. See what I mean. People who sing real soul music, you can really get something going there. You talk about the soul blues thing and everything, I don’t even get that. That’s a ridiculous category. It’s ridiculous. If you want to talk like Albert King playing to a funky beat on stacks. OK. Want to talk about Little Milton who was a fantastic singer who was a gospelly singer but he sang blues. I wouldn’t call it Soul Music. Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright, Otis Clay people like that are soul music. You can mix that a little bit. One is gospel, one is country. Some in gospel say that blues is taboo.

Monica: The devil’s music

Kim: The devil’s music I think that I don’t know about that. There’s a little bit to it…
Little Milton was the greatest blues players of all time. If you talk about Albert Collins who always played to a funky beat. Talkin’ about James Cotton back on that first record on verb when he did Knock on Wood and stuff like that. That’s an Eddie Floyd song..that’s a soul song…but he did it his own way and he sang it like a blues singer. That’s kinda the way I attack it. I really sing things like a blues singer opposed to a soul singer. I love soul music. I love REAL soul music. People like James Hunter is very good. New people as well. James Hunter is kind of old time R&B as well. Go to Eli “Paperboy” Reed. Have you heard of him?

Monica: No, I haven’t.

Kim: He’s a young kid, A white kid. He is really something. A very very good singer. He’s a good kid too, you know. A lot of energy. He’s got a voice that…I don’t know how long it is going to last because he’s screaming his ass off. But..he’s really something. A very good entertainer. Got a crazy kind of innocent vibe to his look, you know what I mean. But, what comes out of his mouth is really pretty serious. So, there’s a couple of people out there …Even though one guy is a soul singer and one guy is more of an R&B singer like old time R&B Big Joe Turner. He does some other stuff that is more modern that he writes. But it has a really old vibe to it. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s …that’s what this band is all about. The old vibe but pushing the envelope, writing your own songs, you know a little more modern in the production, maybe not. Maybe something really raw, which I think is the way we are going next. Really raw and alive. Just live-no nothing. There were very few overdubs in this one. It was pretty much all live. But, it was more produced. I would say more contemporary. Depending on the track. It is a varied record. And, it’s really good. I think it’s my best record. People will say well…as far as …tough enough on. I would say this is probably my best record for sure. You know. Before that,…well, it’s better than those too! There was some good tracks on those old records, those four records, in the beginning. But, this is a little more contemporary, this particular one, and less raw than some of the old old ones.

Monica: Let’s finish up with what’s the name of it? We didn’t get that!

Kim: The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Monica: Ok Thank you.

Kim: …..remains to be seen. There might be an official title. But, I think I’m just going to call it the band name.

Monica: OK! Sounds like you’r e proud of it and happy with it.

Kim: Very happy with it. I’m very very happy.

Monica: That’s cool. That’s passion.

Kim: The thing is, you know, they are at the point now that you can’t take them out of their game. Whatever else has been going on all day long they, will stand their game and have that dynamic. That is very important to me. A lot of guys will freak out on festivals if some more rocky thing is going on. That’s very difficult for me to see that on blues festivals. I don’t understand that at all. ….

Thanks Kim! I think we could have kept on going. But it was midnight, and the crew was packing the chairs and ripping down the stage. Thanks for giving my eleven year old son an autograph. It meant a lot to him. I could kick myself for not getting a picture of them ripping down the stage. For some unknown reasons, those ending things like ripping down a stage, seem to just give me the blues….

People who liked this article also liked:
G.E. Smith Interview

Thank you for reading American Blues News!

Copyright © 2009 Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Copyright © 2009 Jessica Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Copyright © 2009 Charles Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

To purchase the rights to reprint this article, please email

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

Internet Marketingdata recovery